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Finally, videophones are here and are almost useful.

Written By: - Date published: 9:59 pm, December 26th, 2009 - 4 comments
Categories: telecommunications - Tags:

One of the nice things that has shown up over the last few years is the slow rise of Internet videophone technology. I’ve been using Skype for years for various purposes, largely for doing conferences with remote programmers when playing with ideas during projects. But you know a technology is making headway when you see my seniors using it. It was fun today watching my ancient parents doing a call via Skype to my brother, his wife, and my niece and nephew in Al Ain in the Abu Dhabi. If you can’t be there, then the kids and grandparents get more bonding and excitement with a video call than getting the occasional photo and the voice only calls provided by the telcos.

It is also useful for collaborative projects between people. For the last months, I’ve been listening to Lyn as producer of a documentary doing this with the director. The director is doing a scholarship at Stanford University in California. The documentary is as usual on a limited budget. There wouldn’t be the money for the calls required to make decisions on the post-production for the film without the expense free VoIP.

You get an idea about how far this technology is expanding when you look at the numbers and see how the Skype To Skype minutes have exploded in 2008 and 2009,  from about 14 billion minutes to almost 28 billion minutes. These are the direct connections between peoples machines that use don’t use any significiant resources from Skype apart from who is online in your list of contacts. The resources are between two computers.

Date Total user accounts
(in millions)[46][47][48][49][50][51]
Active users â€” daily presence
(in millions)[52]
Skype to Skype minutes
(in billions)
SkypeOut minutes
(in billions)
Revenue USD
(in millions)
Q4 2005 74.7 10.8 N/A N/A N/A
Q1 2006 94.6 15.2 6.9 0.7 35
Q2 2006 113.1 16.6 7.1 0.8 44
Q3 2006 135.9 18.7 6.6 1.1 50
Q4 2006 171.2 21.2 7.6 1.5 66
Q1 2007 195.5 23.2 7.7 1.3 79
Q2 2007 219.6 23.9 7.1 1.3 90
Q3 2007 245.7 24.2 6.1 1.4 98
Q4 2007 276.3 27.0 11.9 1.6 115
Q1 2008 309.3 31.3 14.2 1.7 126
Q2 2008 338.2 32.0 14.8 1.9 136
Q3 2008 370 33.7 16 2.2 143
Q4 2008 405 36.5 20.5 2.6 145
Q1 2009 443 42.2 23.6 2.9 153
Q2 2009 483 25.5 3.0 170
Q3 2009 521 27.7 3.1 185

Skype voice works on pretty well on low bandwidths easily available in NZ. It is quite flaky on a good dialup connection, but should be adequete under ADSL. Video requires a reasonable ADSL connection. You can use Skype on computer tethered to a a reasonable inner-city 3G mobile connection (I’ve used Vodafone). However running Skype in a smartphone (like the iPhone) directly on the 3G network has an artificial constraint – it will allow text chat, but not voice or video connection. The telcos companies don’t like free systems competing with their services. It is pretty clear why. If I was able to use Skype voice  directly on my iPhone, I could use very small amounts of data and massively increase phone minutes to my contact list.

This type of technology only currently works well in countries that have good fixed line phone networks or very good mobile network. For the majority of the worlds population this is not the case. Trying to even e-mail to countries like Papua New Guinea is an exercise in futility. The local fixed networks are low speed, unreliable, and often virus laden. The cell networks are sporadic, sparse, and unreliable for anything apart from voice systems. This applies to most of the developing world. Many are avoiding doing land line based systems and jumping straight to cell networks.

If you’re a telco reliant on toll voice services, you have to be worried by current trends in VoIP. At present the only advantage that telcos have are their switching systems with the switching systems to particular devices.  I’d prefer my iPhone (or Android) to run Skype, be connected to the 3G network, and talk to anyone connected with a computer or smartphone.

Something for the next decade.

4 comments on “Finally, videophones are here and are almost useful.”

  1. Noko 1

    This applies to most of the developing world. Many are avoiding doing land line based systems and jumping straight to cell networks.

    This is a testament to decentralisation and how well it works. Instead of stringing up thousands of kilometres of telephone lines to connect villages, they install a cell tower instead. The same is happening in the developing world with energy generation, where there are frequent blackouts from either lines being knocked down or not enough plant capacity. Small scale hydropower and wind turbines power the batteries of cellphones in these places. It’s great to see the developing world can take something back from us after we have exploited them so much.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Many are avoiding doing land line based systems and jumping straight to cell networks.

    Certainly cheaper to roll out but limited compared to a full land based system. Still, their systems do need to start somewhere and there’s nothing wrong with a cell based system.

    If you’re a telco reliant on toll voice services, you have to be worried by current trends in VoIP.

    Just another reason why the network is going to have to come back into state ownership with services provided by anyone with a server, ie, quite literally, anyone once we get FttH.

    Now, if I could just ring up government ministries, departments, banks, etc etc on Skype or some competitive and compatible equivalent.

  3. expat 3

    Draco,

    State ownership of Telco’s isn’t the answer unless the question was “Can I have a Telco service where it takes 2-3 months to get a new line installed”

    Noko

    Interestingly I heard a BBC documentary about an African medical centre operating across several viillages that used tin cans to craft directional antenna for a WIFI network between the medical centre and a Village

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      Under state ownership the time was down to 2 to 3 days. Under private ownership it’s gone up to about 6 months or more (you try getting ADSL in some locations around NZ).

      The improvement in service is solely down to technology changes most of which was put in place prior to the sale of Telecom (The planned replacement of the last manual exchange was for 1996 – it eventually happened in 1999). Prior to digital exchanges that could be remotely operated people had to actually go to the exchange, wire up the connection and then go to the house to check to see that it was on and fix things if it wasn’t. Organising getting people out to do the job could take awhile. Now, the lines can be turned on and tested at the same time that the order is put through.

      Prior to the 1980s cabling was wrapped in lead, pitch, hessian, steel, hessian and more pitch. The internal wires were wrapped in paper. The new technology of plastic wrapped cabling with colour coding mad it vastly cheaper and faster to lay them. This made for a change in the way things were done, instead of running one line per house plus expected growth and faults two were. Again, this was done prior to the sale of Telecom.

      Back before privatisation planning to replace a cable would happen when the cable got to about 75% full. While at TestraClear a couple of years ago I had a customer that got a lot of cross talk, bad internet connections etc etc. It was a Telecom line and obviously faulty so I rang Telecom to see what could be done about it and the answer was nothing. The line was full, chocker, not a spare pair at all and there was no plans for replacement.

      Want to know when fibre to the cabinet started getting laid out? It was back in the 1980s. Telecom in the early 2000s started taking that fibre out and replacing it with copper so that they could run ADSL out from the exchange. The cheap option rather than the better option of running ADSL from the cabinet.

      In reality, the telecommunications service in NZ has been going backwards since privatisation and it’s been costing us huge amounts of money and opportunities.

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